I watched it again last night…
After all these years, it still hit me as hard as the first time I saw it. Even back then, in the early 1970s, I realized that it was something special. It spoke to me in ways that few other films have before or since.
The connection that I felt the first time I saw it has only gotten stronger over the years. I must have seen it at least 100 times and it never gets old. Rick is still a tough guy, man of the world… Ilsa is still one of the most beautiful women ever..
Although fashion and attitudes have changed since the early 1940s, at the risk of sounding trite, she has a rare, timeless, a truly natural beauty; one that doesn’t need to be camouflaged by makeup. One look at her face, and you can see into her soul. You can see the pain, the love, and the inner turmoil that could destroy her. Makes her want to give in to whatever. Tired of fighting, yet she must keep on fighting.
Rick is a tough guy. Worldly and cynical on the outside, detached almost to the point of being cold and callous. And yet, he’s not a superhero where everything is perfect. He’s got faults and flaws and cracks in the facade.. lots of them. He might seem bitter, but that’s just the hurt. He doesn’t handle it well.
But he’s real. The more I see it, the more in many ways I identify with Rick’s character. And I think a lot of guys do. Sure, he’s tough, he can take a punch and he can punch back. But he doesn’t always win. He’s been kicked around, but he’s still there. And deep down, he knows what is right.
Sometimes he tries to cover it up and pretend that it’s not there… but eventually his humanity wins.
And Victor… He spends his life fighting evil and never betraying his principals. But he’s also a man of the world. For all his focus on his mission, it sometimes seems like he may be totally unaware of what’s going on around him to the point of naiveté. But he too is a man of the world, and he knows how the world works. Better than most. Nazi concentration camps will do that to you.
“The problems of three little people don’t add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
If you haven’t figured it out… then you have no right to tell anyone you “love movies”. As far as I’m concerned, Casablanca is a perfect movie. It has terrific acting, direction, writing, and is supremely uplifting.
Casablanca is what movies are supposed to be about. When it was released in 1942, the U.S. had just entered into World War II. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, things were massively confused. Britain had been fighting the Nazis for two years, and London had been decimated by the air war. British troops were forced into a humiliating retreat from the shores of Dunkirk. The Philippines fell quickly to the Japanese.
The country, and the world needed something inspiring.
Casablanca was exactly the inspiration at exactly the right time.
But all that being said, it was, and is, a damned good movie.
I won’t go into the movie itself, as just about everyone has seen it… at least once.
However, the impact it had on me personally, and indeed our entire American culture is still felt to this day.
How many expressions from the movie have become part of our lexicon?
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
“This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
And contrary to popular belief, Humphrey Bogart never said “Play it again, Sam.”
He did say “Play it. If she can stand it, I can stand it. Play it, Sam.”
But the scene that, to this day, brings chills and I have to admit, causes my eyes to get a little misty, is when Victor leads everyone in “La Marseilles” to drown out the Nazis. It is, at least to me, one of the most powerful, emotional scenes every filmed.
Fast forward to 2014.
I was visiting my son and daughter in Los Angeles in 2014. My son said he wanted to take us to a museum that was having a special exhibit on film noir. (This was Los Angeles after all!)
As a subset of the exhibition, there was an entire portion devoted to Casablanca, which many film people consider the apex of the entire film noir genre. But what was interesting was how many of the people that worked on the film were actually refugees from Hitler’s Reich.. ironically, including several of the “German” soldiers.
Many of the people in the La Marseilles scene were also refugees, and when you see the tears as they sang… well, that was not acting. In many, if not most cases, they were genuine tears.
With that in mind, watch the scene again, and try not to well up.
The filming of Casablanca represented the craziness and uncertainty of the times. Ronald Reagan was actually considered for the part of Rick. (No, I can’t and refuse to even imagine.)
The story also goes that the writers had not finished it, and as one scene was being filmed, the next was being written. No one even had any idea how it was going to end until it ended.
On a personal level, the first time I saw the film, I had just broken up with someone. Or, to be more precise, she broke up with me. And being a “tough guy” myself, it was no big deal… at least to the outside world.
Then I saw Casablanca, and here’s this tough guy completely falling apart. No one, and I mean no one, does broken-hearted like Rick Blaine. Sitting there in the dark with an almost empty bottle… That was absolutely heart-rending.
I was doing the same thing, more or less. And so did most of the guys I knew at one time or another. But I doubt that anyone would admit it. Bogie was an “every guy”.
Not that it made things any better, but at least I didn’t feel like I was the only one in the world who that happened to. Of course, as life went on, it would happen on more than one occasion. But looking back now, I felt like I dodged a bullet. Things worked out for me, and I never did find out what happened to her. I heard rumors about a divinity student? Irony!!
But be that as it may…
Casablanca is a movie I never get tired of. There are few movies that have ever affected my that way. The Grapes of Wrath, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Bogie again.) Certainly, nothing in the last 25 plus years.
There have been some good and some great movies in that time, many of which I really, really loved. But they didn’t affect me the same way.
Maybe Casablanca and the other two movies also represented a different world, where life made more sense. Maybe because they were in black and white and did not use explicit sex and violence they challenged my intellect more. I had to imagine instead of having it force-fed.
It’s not that I’m prudish or anything, but to me, it seems that most explicit sex and violence means writers’ block. The writers ran out of steam, so in order to keep the audience engaged, blow something up… or have some sort of bizarre, explicit sex scene… or better yet, combine the two.
They say that the greatest sex organ is the one between your ears. The most erotic scene in any movie, in my opinion, was the scene in Casablanca where Ilsa comes to see Rick late at night.
Nothing remotely explicit was shown, yet the next morning, you knew what happened. And it happened in your mind. It was up to you to decide what went on. Maybe they stayed up and discussed the World Series, if that is your bent. Probably not.
But that’s the beauty of it. It’s whatever you want. What ever turns you on, as it were. You’re not fed body parts in outrageous contortions, doing things you never knew humans were capable of… Makes you feel kind of inadequate, doesn’t it?
I watched Casablanca last night, and I have no doubt that I will watch it again. Many, many more times.